The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite


Drawn from the latest brain science as well as interviews with top physicians and food industry insiders, The End of Overeating uncovers the food industry's aggressive marketing tactics and reveals shocking facts about how we lost control over food-and what we can do to get it back. For the millions of people struggling to lose weight as well as those of us who simply can't seem to eat our favorite foods in moderation, Dr. Kessler's cutting-edge investigation offers valuable insights and practical answers for ...

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The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite

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Drawn from the latest brain science as well as interviews with top physicians and food industry insiders, The End of Overeating uncovers the food industry's aggressive marketing tactics and reveals shocking facts about how we lost control over food-and what we can do to get it back. For the millions of people struggling to lose weight as well as those of us who simply can't seem to eat our favorite foods in moderation, Dr. Kessler's cutting-edge investigation offers valuable insights and practical answers for America's largest-ever public health crisis. There has never been a more thorough, compelling, or in-depth analysis of why we eat the way we do.

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  • Dr. David A. Kessler
    Dr. David A. Kessler  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

"Conditioned hypereating is a biological challenge, not a character flaw," says Kessler, former FDA commissioner under presidents Bush and Clinton). Here Kessler (A Question of Intent) describes how, since the 1980s, the food industry, in collusion with the advertising industry, and lifestyle changes have short-circuited the body's self-regulating mechanisms, leaving many at the mercy of reward-driven eating. Through the evidence of research, personal stories (including candid accounts of his own struggles) and examinations of specific foods produced by giant food corporations and restaurant chains, Kessler explains how the desire to eat-as distinct from eating itself-is stimulated in the brain by an almost infinite variety of diabolical combinations of salt, fat and sugar. Although not everyone succumbs, more people of all ages are being set up for a lifetime of food obsession due to the ever-present availability of foods laden with salt, fat and sugar. A gentle though urgent plea for reform, Kessler's book provides a simple "food rehab" program to fight back against the industry's relentless quest for profits while an entire country of people gain weight and get sick. According to Kessler, persistence is all that is needed to make the perceptual shifts and find new sources of rewards to regain control. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Dr. David Kessler has written a fascinating account of the science of human appetite, as well as its exploitation by the food industry. The End of Overeating is an invaluable contribution to the national conversation about the catastrophe that is the modern American diet." —Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food

"David A. Kessler, who led the battle against the tobacco industry, now joins the fight against obesity. His message is important: The problem is not only the behavior of profit-driven food companies, but also the daily choices that each one of us makes." —Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

"David Kessler’s fascinating book is essential for anyone interested in learning more about how corporate greed and human psychology have created a national health crisis." —Alice Waters, chef and owner of Chez Panisse

"Disturbing, thought-provoking, and important." —Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential

"A compelling book about overeating and the obesity pandemic. Dr. Kessler thoroughly examines the nature of our relationship with food and why it is critical to understand and modify our behavior to reverse this global threat to health and well-being." —David Satcher, former Surgeon General and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"A fascinating, unique book by a brilliant public health leader." —Donna Shalala, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Library Journal
A pediatrician claims that overeating is caused by the way our bodies and minds are changed when we eat foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 4/13/09)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605294575
  • Publisher: Rodale Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 164,698
  • Product dimensions: 8.72 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID A. KESSLER, MD, served as commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School, and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kessler is the father of two and lives with his wife in California.
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Read an Excerpt

Can Canada Put on the Brakes?

I walked into Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill in Toronto, an energetic place that draws a young crowd and entertains them with loud music and multiple television monitors. A sign advertised a restaurant gift card: “a gift for every craving.”

The dinner menu descriptions had an over-the-top quality that reminded me of Chili’s, including ultimate nachos, with their “bubbling blend of cheeses,” and a bacon cheeseburger.

I ordered two items from the “start-up” list. The lobster and crab dip was a warm, fatty blend dominated by cream cheese. The Southwest grilled chicken flatbread, with its four-cheese blend and smoky chipotle aioli, was a dish of fat on fat on refined carbohydrates, accompanied by a little protein. There were two flatbreads to an order, each about 10.5 inches long.

My entrée, crispy honey sesame chicken, consisted of fried chicken balls with a substantial portion of vegetables, covered in a sweet sauce. Fat, sugar, and salt had been layered and loaded onto the dish.

But for all that, the food at Jack Astor’s stopped somewhat short of its American counterparts. The preparations had less of an industrial quality. The dishes were cooked to order on site, not par-fried, frozen, and shipped across the country. There weren’t as many fried chicken balls on my dinner plate, and they weren’t as large.

I saw that kind of contrast everywhere I looked in Canada. Swiss Chalet offered an all-you-can-eat lunch, a garlic cheese loaf “smothered in melted Jack and cheddar,” and a waiter who assured me that “everythingcomes with dipping sauce.” But portion sizes were a trifle smaller than is typical in the United States and there was a homemade quality to most of the food. At Caroline’s Cheesecake, there were fewer choices than at the Cheesecake Factory, but the portions seemed about as big. The Pickle Barrel had a lot of healthy-sounding food on its menu, but it also served a “triple threat chocolate sundae,” a “mammoth Oreo cookie sundae,” and lemon cranberry and apple cinnamon muffins that were the size of grapefruits.

Canada, it seems, is headed in a troubling direction as the ingredients of conditioned hypereating are assembled. Things aren’t as bad here as they are in the United States, but they aren’t good. One out of four Canadians is now obese, compared to one in three in the U.S. One-third of Canadians who were classified as normal weight a decade ago are now overweight. The upward curve is especially evident in the younger population, with the number of overweight and obese children, ages 7 to 13, increasing by as much as 300% in just two decades.

Human physiology and conditioning are, of course, the same in both countries, so social norms and the environment offer the only possibilities of arresting these trends. It is as if a great natural experiment is being conducted in Canada.

An earlier generation of Canadians recalls a time when eating in restaurants was a rare event and snacking in the street was considered crass. One colleague told me how his father used to love visiting U.S. supermarkets because he was awed by how many more varieties of breakfast cereal were available. Even today, despite changing patterns and the growth of chain restaurants across the country, food is still not quite so ubiquitous or indulgent in Canada. The limitations that once disappointed Canadians may yet save them from the consequences its more overindulgent neighbor is facing.

Nonetheless, candy cane donuts and sour cream donuts are now available at Tim Horton’s, and the small donut balls known as “Timbits” are one of the store’s especially popular features. Even the upscale restaurant, Milestone’s, serves an array of sweet and fatty dipping sauces with its Cajun popcorn shrimp, seafood mixed grill, and yam fries. And the Quebecois tradition of poutine– French fries covered with cheese curds and brown gravy–has gained traction, with many fast-food restaurants in all of the provinces adding it to their menus. Swiss Chalet gives me the opportunity to “poutinize” my fries for $1.99.

Still, Canada has an opportunity to recognize the trajectory it is on and change course. A publishing professional I met there suggested how it might be done when he confessed to his struggle over Kit Kats. A large, tightly disciplined man, he told me that every evening as he heads to the train for his ride home, he breaks into a run to get safely past a news stand that sells those crispy chocolate wafers. Canada, too, must figure out the direction it needs to start running in order to avoid calamity.

When I asked the manager of Jack Astor’s about portion sizes, he told me, “They’re bigger than they have to be. But it’s not like Cheesecake Factory.”

The question is whether it will stay that way.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi

Introduction: You Are the Target xv

Part 1 Sugar, Fat, Salt

1 Something Changed … America Gained Weight 3

2 Overriding the Wisdom of the Body 7

3 Sugar, Fat, and Salt Make Us Eat More Sugar, Fat, and Salt 12

4 The Business of Food: Creating Highly Rewarding Stimuli 18

5 Pushing Up Our Settling Points 22

6 Sugar, Fat, and Salt Are Reinforcing 29

7 Amping Up the Neurons 35

8 We Are Wired to Focus Attention on the Most Salient Stimuli 41

9 Rewarding Foods Become Hot Stimuli 46

10 Cues Activate Brain Circuits That Guide Behavior 50

11 Emotions Make Food Memorable 55

12 Rewarding Foods Rewire the Brain 58

13 Eating Behavior Becomes a Habit 61

Part 2 The Food Industry

14 A Visit to Chili's 67

15 Cinnabon: A Lesson in Irresistibility 74

16 That's Entertainment 78

17 The Era of the Monster Thickburger 83

18 No Satisfaction 94

19 Giving Them What They Like 97

20 What Consumers Don't Know 101

21 The Ladder of Irresistibility 104

22 The World's Cuisine Becomes Americanized 111

23 Nothing Is Real 115

24 Optimize It! 120

25 The Science of Selling 125

26 Purple Cows 132

Part 3 Conditioned Hypereating Emerges

27 Overeating Becomes More Dangerous 137

28 What Weight-Loss Drugs Can Teach Us 142

29 Why We Don't Just Say No 145

30 How We Become Trapped 154

31 Conditioned Hypereating Emerges 157

32 Tracing the Roots of Conditioned Hypereating 163

33 Nature or Nurture? 166

34 Warning Signs in Children 169

35 The Culture of Overeating 173

Part 4 The Theory of Treatment

36 Invitations to the Brain 181

37 Reversing the Habit 184

38 Rules of Disengagement 190

39 Emotional Learning 196

Part 5 Food Rehab

40 The Treatment Framework 205

41 Planned Eating 209

42 Letting Go of the Past 217

43 Eating Is Personal 226

44 Avoiding Traps: On Obsession and Relapse 231

45 Making the Critical Perceptual Shift 234

Part 6 The End of Overeating

46 "Our Success Is the Problem" 239

47 Industry Cracks the Code 242

48 Fighting Back 245

A Final Word 250

Q&A with Dr. Kessler 253

Endnotes 257

List Of Author Interviews 311

Acknowledgments 319

Index 323

About The Author 330

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